Syneos Health is a diverse multinational organisation operating in ~70 countries. With around half of employees not assigned to an office pre-pandemic, Syneos Health believed it was a step ahead of other companies when the pandemic struck, and the world went into lockdown in 2020.
The assumption was that with so many staff members already working remotely, mass home working would be less of a challenge for the organisation compared to others that were predominantly office bound five days per week.
Regardless, Syneos Health deployed a global Home Working Survey in June 2021, to conduct a complete assessment of their employees’ experiences around the world and the results were both enlightening and often unexpected.
Leesman surveyed 10,694 employees in 59 countries. A key finding was the variation in home working performance between different countries. South Africa, the United States, Portugal, Slovakia, China and Mexico all did extremely well. On the other end of the spectrum of home working experience were Malaysia, Hong Kong, Chile, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Finland. Some of these results took the organisation by surprise.
For example, in Japan, the majority of employees work in remote-based roles on healthcare sites, therefore, managers expected that they would be less inclined to go into offices. In addition, the team expected the data to show a diminished need for employees who travel for work to be in the office. However, the survey revealed Japanese employees wanted to be back in the office. Patrick Hoffman, Senior Vice President of Corporate Real Estate & Services, commented: “They want to be part of a community of collaborators in the office, and we were glad to see this feedback”.
South Africa was another eye-opener.
Syneos Health had believed the South African office to be an ideal working space and assumed employees would be eager to return. Yet the country produced an impressively high home working performance score revealing that many were having an excellent experience at home.
A possible answer suggested by the data, showed that South African employees typically worked in biostats, a focused role that benefits from quiet, undisturbed surroundings and with a slightly lower role complexity that other functions. Hoffman commented: “the team applies statistical techniques to scientific research. Then all of a sudden, it clicked. They don’t necessarily collaborate throughout the day, and their work style is well supported at home most of the time”.
In comparing home working performance across different countries, the Leesman survey was able to tease out the positive and negative factors that impacted employee satisfaction within each country. The results have helped Syneos Health understand why some countries managed home working better than others, as well as identify general principles that apply to everyone regardless of location.
For example, it was noticeable that countries considered low performing had a substantially higher percentage of respondents working from a non-specific home setting, such as a dining table, compared to those in high-performing countries. Linked to this is the finding that most of the low-performing countries were in Asia, where space is usually more of a challenge and smaller homes are the norm. This clearly suggests quantity and quality of home work space is a key factor in determining employees’ satisfaction with home working.
Another noticeable finding was the importance of feeling connected to colleagues and the organisation as a whole. There was a significant difference between the level of connection employees felt in low and high performing countries, with those employees in the latter feeling considerably more connected to both their colleagues and organisation, surpassing the global benchmark.
The Global Home Working survey findings have helped Syneos Health to formulate an effective post-Covid strategy that meets the needs of all their employees. Following the survey, Syneos Health’s HR and real estate teams have worked closely together to develop a hybrid working environment that offers more choice and flexibility.
For example, throughout the pandemic, employees had to make a binary choice on where they worked – home or office, with nothing in between. Now a third option has been created that allows home-based employees to be affiliated with a specific office. This provides opportunities to engage with colleagues and attend office events, such as lunch-and-learns, unplugged sessions hosted by Leaders. Hoffman explains: “HR has been a key partner for us to make sure people feel safe, connected, and welcome to come back to the workplace.”
The insights on the best and worst-performing home-work environments have provided Syneos Health with the knowledge needed to predict the shape of their office footprints going forward, anticipate the materials and infrastructure required by employees, and make a strong business case for investment and expansion.
In the future, Syneos Health plans to utilise Leesman data to conduct a year-on-year comparison and gain feedback on the organisation’s evolving office strategy.